Community / Opinion

A moment to celebrate: Lunar New Year becomes a school holiday

Lunar New Year, the most important cultural holiday for many Asian community members, will finally be able to be fully celebrated by Dana Hall students. On February 11, Head of School Ms. Katherine Bradley announced that starting next year, Lunar New Year will be celebrated with a day off of school to allow for cultural celebrations. This decision was a result of the powerful petition written by Novia Nguyen ‘21 and Sicheng (Sissi) Wang ‘24. The petition was signed by over 130 community members, including many student leaders, teachers, and board members who voiced their support. The administration’s decision is a necessary step in the school’s mission to fully support students of all backgrounds. 

Many international students have deeply felt the inability to celebrate Lunar New Year fully. The holiday itself is the most important cultural holiday in many Asian countries, including China, South Korea, and Vietnam. It is the celebration of the first moon in the lunisolar calendar. It begins on the first new moon and ends on the first full moon, typically 15 days. People celebrate by cleaning their houses to rid themselves of bad luck for the new year, exchanging lai see (red envelopes) with small amounts of money, lighting lanterns, and eating traditional foods, among other rituals. It is a time for family reunions and celebrations. For international students, this day is a reminder of the distance between themselves and their families. A day off of school will allow students to interact with their families in their time zones and celebrate this important day without worrying about school. It will ensure that students do not need to decide between their culture and their school work.

As outlined in Novia and Sissi’s petition, a day off of school is necessary for students to fully celebrate Lunar New Year. In past years, the School implemented a homework consideration policy and granted students an excused absence to celebrate the special day. This policy prevented teachers from holding tests or assigning projects on the holiday or the day afterward. However, this was not enough. Despite homework consideration, classes continued on that day, placing a burden on the students to make up for the missed material. As stated in the petition, more than three-fourths of students and faculty who identify as Asian attended school on Lunar New Year in past years because skipping school would be too difficult to make up. The school-wide day off will allow students to celebrate without sacrificing schoolwork or class time.    

For Novia, Sissi, and many of the petition signatories, the effort to get a day off of school is a part of a greater movement for change. The pandemic and the hybrid structure have highlighted the disparity and distance between the international students and the day students. With international students this year having to miss large sections of the school day due to significant time differences, the separation in the student body feels greater than just the physical distance between us. It is becoming impossible to deny the difference in experience between the two groups of students. The administration granting a day off of school for Lunar New Year signals that they are acknowledging and respecting Asian culture to the same degree that they do other cultures. This year that respect is more important than ever. In addition, it signals that the School is open to change and improvement to make the international experience at Dana as great as possible. 

Although Dana will be the first school in the area to take Lunar New Year off, it is a part of a greater movement for schools to recognize the special day. Two years ago, the Brookline Public school, which has roughly 20% of its students celebrating Lunar New Year, had a similar petition with around 1,000 signatures on Although that petition failed, it is a testament to the greater movement for schools to recognize the cultural significance of the holiday. Dana Hall is leading the pack in recognizing this holiday, and hopefully, other schools will soon follow.

Photo credit: Ms. Jillian DeBusk, from Dana Hall School’s Instagram account.

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